Ten feet tall

I am so proud today! Flash, Cyrus and I did five and a half miles solo at Hardy Creek this morning and everything went smoothly. I have ridden at Hardy extensively in the past but Flash has only been there once a year ago. We did most of the ride on a loose rein while I sang camp songs and a few “Hamilton” tracks to keep the tempo.

The bridge is the same color as my horse!
Cyrus enjoying his treat and water break at Annie’s Cabin.
These are my favorite cantle bags, from Stowaway, they hold so much with little bounce.

It was a fairly busy day and Flash was pretty dang good, no spooks and only a few mild opinions. The trails were beautiful and green and Cyrus even found some mud.

His trail manners are just the best; even off leash he never approached all the other dogs we passed and he sticks right with us. My favorite part of Hardy Creek are all the singletrack trails, and I’m happy to report we didn’t run into any wasps or hornets, always a concern this time of year.

Fun singletrack trail
Happy Cyrus!
Busy ears, sound really carries up this canyon

Ten feet tall and moving down trail with a happy dog and a pretty Palamino and life is good!

I walk down the big hill to the trailer, I ride up it at the start though!
Pretty Blondie!
Luckiest girl with her very own rig!

Pandemics and outdoor recreation

The world has been turned upside down, inside out and beaten thoroughly, like a freshly washed down comforter. Emotions have been set to critical for over a month with only more confusion in sight, which doesn’t make for lovely, pleasant spring days for many. Personally, I’ve had major writer’s block since I returned from our first try at a Mountain Trail schooling show and my state implemented “Stay Safe, Stay Home” orders. An argument now rearing it’s ugly head has unstuck me to some regard, so here’s my thoughts on trying to recreate outdoors during a global pandemic.

Really wishing we could do this again soon!

I will state right up than I’m still grieving the loss of being able to go hiking, walking and camping with my little dog, pony and 9 year old son show. I may be heavily pregnant, but I was still planning on getting out at least every other week with friends until June if I could. I’m pretty sure my 19 year old, been everywhere gelding will pretend he’s never seen a trailer in his life when all this is said and done.

The last time I hauled this face, it was to his new barn over a month ago!

For every argument for throwing public lands back open, come what may, there’s a great deal of solid science, utter unknowns and plain humans being humans reasons not to; or at least, to try to find alternatives. The hardest part of all this for me, who likes to rely on experts and solid science, is that even the experts are flying a bit blind and there’s just so many unknowns around Covid-19, it makes “returning to normal” especially fraught…and humans, as a species, don’t always operate the best in the grey areas.

Proof Blondie can be uphill and balanced!

My neighbor to the north state, where a good chunk of my friends live, is cautiously reopening state public lands for day use next week, with several caveats. The biggest impact to me personally being the “don’t drive far” and “only travel with those you live with” directives. My state has prolonged opening the state parks until Memorial Day at least, which considering the supposed cross state agreement we joined seem a bit moot on the surface.

  • If one state opens but another doesn’t, people will be people and will travel across borders. This will lead to the crowding and overuse the officials are trying to prevent. Large fines and other enforcement strategies won’t change this behavior, as there are only so many officials able to enforce directives available anyway. Trail heads regularly see break ins, trash dumps and vandalism during normal times due to lack of enforcement, and that will just get worse.
  • State lands already feel the effect of budget cuts, chronic under funding and lack of staff. I did a stint as a park ranger and can attest to the uphill battle it normally is to keep up cleanliness; I shudder to imagine how much harder it would be with facilities closed and unable to be safely maintained by park staff even further constrained by lack of PPE and other materials. Opening access without opening facilities leads to the more careless humans making a huge mess, not recreating responsibly enough and providing disease spread (which even now is still not totally clear).
  • For those crying “But those are our lands!” This is true on the surface, but we live in a system in which we’ve given over management of such places to officials in whatever form. They currently face a heartbreaking battle between open access for all, maintaining the health and safety of both staff and visitors, and halting progression of a virus we still don’t have a clear picture for. Whether we fully agree with their decisions or not, they do have the power and the right to make them, and shouldn’t be vilified for it, only supported in whatever ways we can; whether that be through public comment, staying home or recreating as responsibly as we know how these days.
  • To those of pretty much all my friends, who I include in the “can recreate responsibly” guidelines and/or be reasonably self contained, I’m with you on desiring open lands where we can make our own choices and visit safely. But just enough folks just won’t or can’t follow the LNT guidelines or just manage to care enough about other people to open public lands without a solid, safe plan in place for managing such people, and that’s the bottom line officials have to reckon with. That part sucks the most for me, to know how hard my friends and I work when we camp, hike and volunteer to keep our public lands safe, clean and usable, and being unable to due to the subset of folks that just don’t care enough.

I don’t have any answers to the underlying issues above, maybe a few suggestions that I still don’t know would lead to a “safe enough” opening. Sure a permit system to avoid overcrowding is a decent idea, but leads to it’s own subset of problems, chief among them access for all and the time and budget to even set one up or expand the existing system (plus the additional cries of “It’s my land, why should I pay for it or have to arrange access to it?”).

As much as it sucks in the short term (and boy howdy does it really freaking suck when the sun shines and everything is bursting into bloom), the most responsible, ethical and kind thing to do is to stay at home until a safe enough system is worked out. I still hold hope for at least one more camping trip before I pop, even if it is just to my friend’s pasture!

If we all keep our heads, surely we can figure this out!

Sun and adventures to come

Three awesome lads

Thanks to the later sunset, I was able to fit in a quick, two mile hike after I picked the kid up from school. My second best hope has been realized and Flash is loading now with zero fuss (he’s not yet self loading but maybe someday). I’m hoping he actually likes going hiking (or, as I’m sure he calls it, “sampling the wilderness”.)

Must eat every five strides

If it’s not cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, I’ve signed up for a Mountain Trail Schooling Course at Bolender Horse Park this weekend. I’ll be doing Novice, Level 1 and Level 2 in hand if Flash agrees with that. For all it’ll be our first event like this together, I’m hoping we’ll do okay…at least not embarress each other! The hardest move for Flash is a side pass; I just don’t have my signals down for nice, smooth ones so we’ll try to eek through that.

Kade is a great videographer in training!

Wish us luck and hope we don’t freeze up in the hills Saturday night! At least Flash will have a nice cozy stall on site.

After school fun

Close to home adventures

I’ve finally reached 20 weeks pregnant, wooot!!! Halfway there! We had the mid way ultrasound yesterday to check all the measurements and growth and baby is moving along normally, always good to hear that from doctors!

I love my new spare tire cover!

This also means that I’ve reached the point in which I’m voluntarily grounding myself from riding; the risk of a fall from Flash is fairly low but not zero, and as this isn’t my baby my comfort level is lower. So, we’re back to hiking and today the sun shone so out we went!

Happy dog, starving horse

An awesome local group is gathering and bringing some old trails back to life that just so happen to be a 10 minute haul from my barn! I was able to load Flash, unload, shove his boots on, make him carry my stuff (some adjustments still needed there), go for a two mile hike and make it home as the kid got off the bus.

Trail building: downhill edition

Flash was super well behaved except for the occasional reminder to not trip over me (personal spaaaaace!) and even when we saw other horses he didn’t scream for them. He did get a bit fast heading back to the trailer, so we took an out and back detour on a single track trail and he settled back down.

Awesome viewpoint

A beautiful hike and some exploring in a new place on a sunny day with a good dog and a starving blonde pony…it helps a great deal! Now to pack the truck for our camping shakedown trip to Battle Ground Lake tomorrow!

Pony chooses food over views naturally
Nom nom

Oregon Trails Summit

Along with a few other lucky ladies, I was privileged to attend the Oregon Trails Summit in Bend last weekend. PNER sent me to talk trails, but I brought a lot of past experience as both a trail user and stakeholder (I worked on trails with Northwest Youth Corps for six summer seasons, as well as two seasons as a State Park Ranger). It was wonderful to network and discuss issues with nerds who speak my language, a complicated polyglot of passion, frustration and issues between Federal, State and private land managers, industry leaders, and coalition groups from every corner of the state. As a passionate dirt bag, equestrian, and overall outdoor geek, it was heady brew.
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I also go to visit Smith Rock State Park for the first time!!!
Even with the fun and empowering discussions, presentations and emotional keynote speech to fill the weekend, there was a shadow cast over the whole thing for me. I’ll get to the specifics of the sessions I attended shortly, but I’d like to address what to me has become the elephant in the room: PNER is no longer the place for me.
This PNER trip to the Summit was spearheaded by Julie Serres, on behalf of the Trails Committee. She eventually chose not to come, for her own reasons born of frustration, and after seeing several back and forth comments through this member’s page, I am also choosing to bow out of paying dues next year to an organization that does not walk it’s talk of late. Oregon Equestrian Trails and Back-country Horseman’s Association both had a large presence at the summit, from leading a horse and bike workshop, having a small booth with handout materials, to being on several panel discussions. I feel PNER could have either been a larger presence, or gone with a clearer directive to “learn how we can give back to our beloved trails, and be more active in the trail maintenance community.” Without Julie there, it felt like our group lacked cohesion.
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Also got to ride an awesome little war mare, Dalai Lama!
The first session I sat in on was regarding the new technology known as “e-bikes”, where I learned a great deal about what they actually are. The discussion was wide ranging, but boils down to what kind of experience e-bike users are looking for. Federal land managers have classed them with OHVs and other motorized vehicles, when most e-bikes are no louder or that much faster than non-motorized bikes. Oregon State has a more flexible, while still limited, interpretation for basic, pedal assisted e-bikes, the kind that have no throttle (you have to be pedaling to keep moving). For now, though, most e-bikes remain quite expensive, but as this market expands look to see more of them on the trails. From an equestrian’s perspective, the main worry is about speed on trails designed to allow bikes, whether motorized or non, to rapidly gain speed or pop out of nowhere, limiting reaction times for all parties. We covered built environment fixes (ie designing multi-use trails to slow all parties down through specific trail features), administration fixes (ie bikes only uphill, bikes and horses allowed on alternate days, etc), and simply building new, bike only trails while still maintaining equestrian and hiker access on existing trails (not a zero sum game; bikers get trails that cater to them, while equestrians don’t loose access to trails they’ve traditionally had access to.)
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Downtown Bend is fantastic!
The next session was Forwarding Signature Trails (think like the PCT, only Oregon specific). As a trail user, this was a fun and hugely informative session as to the hard leg work and cooperation goes into building trails and trail systems. Presenters included groups from Umatilla, Tualatin, and Southern Oregon. I was heartened to hear that with the exception of the Tualatin River Trail (which is heavily urban and not a fun place to ride anyway) all trails in this discussion included equestrians in their design and build processes (I can’t decide which I’m more excited to visit and ride someday, the Jack-Ash trail in Southern Oregon or the Joseph network near the Wallowa’s!)
This session, along with the Regional Trails breakout, covered a ton of ground on how to gather support, funding, and everything else needed to make trails a reality. Ideas, tips and tricks ranged from encouraging participation of volunteers, communicating effectively with different demographics, and making local media your friend. One very cool tidbit as a technology loving Millennial was QR codes on business cards and trail signs, where you can pair your GPS track from your favorite local trail to a larger regional database. This helps map where and how people are using local trails, in order to include them in the area’s overall trail plan.
The most interesting breakout was one which certainly requires more time, Resolving Trail Conflicts. I know Elayne’s write up is already up (she’s faster than I am!) and she came into this session with a much different perspective. For myself, I lean more democratic and have a wide range of views on trail usage, as I’ve built trails for all types of users (OHVs, horses, bikes, hikers only, multi-use, ADA) and have used trails in all sorts of different ways, though my primary use is from horseback (c’mon, who doesn’t agree that’s the best view?) The overall point I took out of this session was considering each user group’s desired trail experience. For the most part, user groups can “make it work” in relative harmony, minus outliers who ruin things for everybody, regardless of how they use the trails. The main beef comes both between OHV users and other groups, mainly due to the noise and speed being so much greater than any other group (bikers, hikers, kayakers, equestrians, etc. while they each have their own impact on trails, and minus run ins with mountain bikes and *gasp* piles of poop, don’t really impact each other in a huge, insurmountable way).
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So pretty…no desire to climb up like the two dozen climbers I passed!
Ultimately, it’s up to land managers to “build the table” and the responsibility of each user group to ensure they have a seat at that table, whether it be private, State or Federal lands in question. Ironing out issues of trail use, maintenance, new trails, emerging technologies and access take time, a buttload of patience, and empathy for other users, even if you hate what experience they might seek on trails. Each specialized organization, from PNER to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, can help maintain access to trails for all through a combination of education, encouraging volunteers, and reaching out to bring user groups together; from poker rides that include hikers, bikers and equestrians at the same event to special sponsored trail signs, it is possible to share trails in a sustainable way.
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This mare was a hoot and I can’t wait to ride her again someday!
The biggest question, now that we’ve presented what we’ve learned, is where PNER will take this information. Each rider uses some combination of private, State and Federal trails (I myself ride mostly on private timber lands kept open to equestrians through the good faith of the landowner, as well as Federal and State forests and parks when someone takes a horse for me out and about). OET and BCHA both have large, well organized service arms; OET sponsors several fantastic horse camps through annual work parties, specialized signage, and organized fundraising rides; BCHA is out there hauling tools and equipment into back country trails, supporting other trail organizations by hauling equipment, providing equestrian based expertise, and both organizations spend a good amount of time on educating an increasingly horse naive public about horses, equestrian issues and best practices when meeting horses on trails.
Based on Julie’s experiences of the past year to get a Trails Committee off the ground, is PNER even willing to become more of a service or education based organization? It’s one thing to have a booth at an equine trade show asking people to join our organization; it’s a whole other kettle of fish to ask those who do join to organize an educational poker ride, put in hours maintaining their local trails, or designing educational materials for other trail users.
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Definitely dragging the husband, kid and dog to this awful place someday…

Mr. 2Spooky

(Setting the scene: sitting in my beloved Emerald Queen, still at work, waiting for the World’s Best future husband to come rescue me and my non independent woman self from a super flat tire, and a spare tire I can’t get out from under the vehicle cause I’ve never practiced on this truck yet).

After looting the local 4H tack sale with two far fetched friends on Saturday, I put the new to me tack to use on Sunday.

My proudest score of Saturday was a almost brand new Equipedic pad for $100, which is totally worth boasting about and bonus, Ray had no issues with it!

A still relatively new to me riding partner and I headed out for a long slow ride, as we’re aiming to turtle Grizzly together. I have always ridden with others much more experienced than I, both with endurance and the local trails. Yesterday I got to be the ‘senior’ riding partner, and we never once got lost! She mentioned several suggestions I had that I’ve picked up from others (hopping off every 10 miles or so to pee and stretch and adjust tack, letting horses graze for a few minutes every so often, and walking the last bit I to camp/the barn) were super helpful, so thanks to all those who’ve instilled good habits in me!

While it was a good 12 mile ride (no rain!) I was reminded once again that Ray is a different horse than super laid back, goofy Jokker.

Mr. I’m actually a teenager spent a good chunk of the ride just super casually glancing around, going full giraffe at random moments, and not quite fully jumping sideways at Every. Single. Culvert. I rode every moment of the ride, working to not let my emotions rule because Mr. I’m not actually trying to dump you tried to pretend he was a super spooky four year old.

I kept the image of mile 18, trotting easily down trail halfway back to camp and a well earned completion award and roaring bonfire in mind as I again reminded Mr. I go so fast than no, you can’t bolt all the way home, and please don’t tailgate the peeing mare.

Rather than being terrified, I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself to match the horse, and not get sucked into his attempts to weasel out of work. He did eventually accept the notion and we settled down and enjoyed ourselves (minus the redhead eating culverts).

Lessons learned: definitely going to try a Kimberwick or at least a running martingale next time; he has a habit of sticking his nose straight up when he disagrees with the riders chosen speed. “Neener neener, can’t tell me what to do now!” Shortening my stirrups was both good and bad; my seat was much better, but it tired my right ankle our faster and forced me to constantly reset my bad balance (something I’m hoping Celena can help me with at her clinic in two more weeks!)

My proudest moment was also the scariest; we were cantering back home and I could feel myself tipping forward over his neck, reins not short enough to do any good, and if he’s stumbled or shied I would have been dumped, just like I fell off Reno at Grizzly last year. Fortunately this year I heard some old trainer’s loud ass voice shout ‘Sit on your ASS!’ so I did and we came back to a more controlled canter that I cowgirl whooped my way through cause yeah, super badass enough to correct that mistake this time!

The only thing I really need to work with Mr. Fastest Possible Speed is rating, which I know will be worse the first five miles out of ride camp. My twin goals are dialing in his bit/martingale combo and working on my core strength so I can keep with him for those long miles.

We can do this and we can enjoy doing so, even more when the sun decides to shine! Hows everyone else’s conditioning coming?

Escape the smoke

After the topsy turvey summer we’ve had, neither of us could face a crazy holiday weekend of travel, even for horse training. So I skipped a farm visit, and today my little family of three (minus His Royal Fuzzy Whiteness Wilson) mosied over them that hills to the beach.

This lazy day of wandering was exactly what we all needed, quiet time together and an escape from the awful heat and wildfire smoke filling the Willamette valley again today.

We hit Lincoln City, which was reliably packed, enjoyed a nice lunch at McMenamin’s, and found perfect high winds and few people (although still enough kids for Kade to play with) at Bob Straub State Park in Pacific City.

Tom had a blast flying his high tech kites in the wind, busting a steady 15-23mph, and being that special kind of puzzled only engineers get when he couldn’t figure out why I kept crashing the kite. (Hint: you work the kite lines the exact opposite way from reins, which I’ve spent the better part of my life learning and teaching!)

The large pack of kids digging energetically in the sand taught Kade how to find shrimp; we took turns burying each other in the sand; hit pause for a snuggle break to warm up my zero body fat kid; wrote a little of the stress into my journal; and relaxed, watching Kade play, Tom fly kites, on a beautiful sunny windy smoke free beach. I managed (barely) not to cry, out of gratefulness that we live where we can safely steal a day like this, peaceful and together and happy, far from the stresses and strains and sadness of the world for awhile.

Move the feet

I wanted to write up the rambling, curse filled guide to hiking Mt. Pisgah in Eugene (gods, even the name is awesome!) but now I’m home with the kiddo in the bath, the boyfriend packing for his Las Vegas trip, work tomorrow & a brain that is equally parts sugar happy (iHop is a delicious evil place) & hike tired (4.5 mile hike straight up & straight down). To sum up, Pisgah is one of the most rewarding hikes in the Willamette Valley: close, cheap parking, both ‘easy’ footing & technical trails, relatively quiet on an intermittently rainy winter’s day, with hands down some of the best views of the southern Valley from the summit that are worth cursing your entire way up (if you’re out of shape like I am!) Enjoy some pretty pictures & head out that way if you’re ever in the neighborhood!

 

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View to the southeast, looking towards the Cascades

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Halfway up crazy stupid I wore the rain jacket for 20 feet before I overheated & yanked it off selfie!

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Summit selfie, cause damn, it’s awesome up there & my own two feet hauled me up!

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Obelisk on the summit, doesn’t count if you didn’t touch it!

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This tree was convinced it’s already spring, quite nice to stumble upon 🙂

 

 

Switch it up

  
I’ve been running a bit intermittently since Turkey Day, even going so far as to acquire two pairs of shoes just for running, plus a Camelbak waist belt, again, just for running. I tried running in high school & frankly sucked at it, but considering my life now it’s a good way to exercise, fairly cheaply, for the time I have available for exercising. I’m even bandying about the idea of another half marathon, only much better prepared this time around.  
Running for me is mostly a solitary endeavor, considering schedules & where I’m at with my training. I’ve started considering what I would like my summer to look like, & while I will keep running, I’d rather spend my money on something which I already love-camping & hiking with Kade. He’s at that utterly awesome age of “old enough” for certain things-he can hike 5-6 easy miles all by himself now- & “young enough” to still think doing everything with mommy is awesome, & fascinated by everything I point out, like this morning’s uplifting sunrise, he was so excited by this.

  
So instead of trying to psych myself up for a daily run, I’m switching my focus to prepping to carry two people’s worth of gear to a pretty campsite up a fairly easy trail. Kade is made insanely happy by maps, so we’ll spread out a few topo maps of Oregon & Washington & try to find a half dozen under 10 mile loop or our & back hikes. We already know he loves to camp, but our first non-car camp trip will be close to home just in case, so one of our lovely, long suffering family members can rescue us if necessary.  

  
I can tell I’m much more excited by the thought of these trips, & not a marathon, because I’ve already compiled an extensive gear & needed gear list, places I want to go, training tips, & trying to remember what’s in a good hiking first aid kit…and reminding myself that wherever we go, so does Laila & Kade’s green blankie!  

I will also be actively bugging people for trip ideas, light weight gear reviews, tips & tricks for making the hike & camp set up easier & as comfy as possible for a tired mommy & kiddo at the end of the day. Most of my hiking experience is with groups, so I’m used to carrying a lot of gear, but setting up camp basically by myself at the end of a day, plus encouraging/keep Kade from jumping off cliffs, will be more an adventure than any marathon could give me!